Jan 1: Reinterpreted English Breakfast; Baked Ham and Baked Winter Vegetables with Halloumi

Lunch

Back in our own kitchen we decided to create an interpretation of a traditional English breakfast, although our bacon had spoiled while we were away so it was a meatless version. Some of our inspiration came from Cafe Marmalade in Newhaven, UK. At the time we described our breakfast as “An English breakfast cooked by someone who cared about food.”

Kicked up English Breakfast
Kicked up English Breakfast

For two serves:

Total ingredients $7.98 for two serves, or $3.99 per serve. The roast tomatoes were excellent. The giant beens probably a little too big, but overall a very satisfying lunch.

Dinner

One of our annual guilty pleasure is a Ralph’s (Kroger) ham that we bake for Christmas. A huge shank end cost only $11.08. Baked to perfection and dozens of serves.

Paired with the double potato and halloumi bake it’s a great winter dish.

Along with the ham we created a sauce from pomegranate molasses, balsamic vinegar and dijon mustard, which was fantastic. Balance the balsamic and pomegranate molasses then add mustard slowly to bring it all in balance. It worked perfectly with the ham, giving a little acid to cut through the pork fat, along with some tart sweetness from the molasses.

  • Ham is $11.08 and we’ll get at least 12 serves, for less than $1 per serve
  • Sweet potato cost 94c
  • Potatoes $3.99 but we only used half or $2.00
  • One large garlic went in to roast at 50c
  • A bell pepper added $1.49
  • Red onion added another $1.30
  • The halloumi was $3.84.

The roast vegetables with halloumi totals $10.07 but it makes four serves, or $2.52 per serve. With the ham, that’s less than $3.52 for a very satisfying winter meal.

December Summary and Observations

December has been the most atypical month yet. We travelled to Australia and stayed with various members of our family, so we rarely cooked and infrequently paid for evening meals. Because we were traveling we mostly ate lunch out. I have not included free meals in the averages,

The averages for this month:

  • Lunch prepared at home $2.48 ($2.76 in November) but in fairness we only prepared two meals at home that we paid for
  • Lunch eaten or purchased outside the home: $8.55 ($7.42)
  • Dinner eaten at home: $6.41 ($5.14), largely influenced by our Dec 31 meal and seven meals eaten at home and paid for
  • Dinner eaten out: $21.03 ($5.00) but again it was only four meals

Our most expensive meal was at Gordon Biersch early in the month at $25.15 per serve, but The Country Deli was next most expensive at $21.00 per serve.

Had we purchased every lunch and prepared none it would have cost us $265.05 per person in December. We actually spent $4.95 for lunches at home plus $145.27 for lunches purchased or eaten out: $150.22.

Had we purchased every evening meal out and prepared none at home, it would have cost us $651.93. We actually spent $44.84 for dinners at home and $63.10 for dinners out: $107.94, but our evening meals were heavily subsidized by our family hosts.

It’s hardly a typical month to base anything long term on, and there’s nowhere near the variety this month.

Dec 31: Sandwich; Airline Lunch; Ham, Cheese and Egg Toastie; Country Deli; Grazing Dinner

Today we travelled back over the International Date Line, so we doubled up on Dec 31: once on the aircraft and then again once we got home.

Breakfast

Having risen at 5am to catch a 6:30 train to Sydney for an 11:40 flight to LA we shared a toasted ham, tomato and cheese sandwich and a rare roast beef sandwich.

Because it was an airport, this was $10 a serve!

Lunch/Dinner

Once on board and underway we were served lunch. It was acceptable airline food which you have to admire given the conditions. A beef bologna with vegetables or curried chicken with rice.

Breakfast

A ‘bacon’ (really ham), cheese and egg toastie (toasted sandwich) was served for breakfast, along with some things we didn’t eat. It was served steaming hot and wasn’t horrible, which is pretty amazing given it was 11 hours ago it left the kitchen.

Lunch (After arrival)

Our flight landed at 6am and we were clear of the airport by 7. Once home we unpacked and, given it had been six hours since breakfast by that time, we headed for the Country Deli, where Philip had his usual skirt steak, eggs and home fries, while Greg had a French Dip with chunky fries.

Lunch at The Country Deli usually runs about $21 a serve with tax and tip and today was not different.

Dinner

We decided to celebrate the New Year with a French bubbly rosé and a banquet of cambazola; paté, crackers, sugar snap peas, hummus, dolmas, and caper berries – a first for us.

Of course, after an overnight trip and a full day, neither of us made it to midnight, although local fireworks woke Greg for the celebration!

  • The cambazola cost $5.16
  • Multigrain crackers $2.29 but we used only half at $1.10
  • Dolmas were $2.99
  • Sugar snap peas $2.49 but again we only used half or $1.25
  • Chicken and black truffle paté was $4.99
  • 7oz of hummus was $1.99
  • We also used a pack of seedy herb crisp breads because the paté worked better with that, than the crackers, $2.99.

Dinner tonight, without the bubbly cost $20.47 for the two of us, or $10.25 each for a very generous banquet.

Dec 30: ‘Club’ Lunch; Family Dinner: Duck, Ham, Chicken, Watermelon Salad, Potato Salad with Fruit Salad.

Lunch

We spent the morning and lunch with Foodie Greg’s parents including a visit to Wangi RSL – another Australian-style club. The Returned Serviceman’s League is very similar to the American Legion, but the club is run as a member’s co-operative with poker (slot) machines, and a liquor license as well as food outlets. Wangi RSL is a small club right on the edge of Lake Macquarie.

Foodie Greg had a squid salad, which he enjoyed, while Foodie Philip went for the gourmet beef burger, but it had been very popular, so he settled for the – quite good – gourmet chicken burger.

Our host paid for the meal.

Dinner

On our final night in Australia for this trip, the Foodies hosted Philip’s family for dinner. With partners and friends, we had a table of nine. What is a very serviceable kitchen/dining area was stretched with nine. Without enough surface area to plate that many, buffet style it was.

Because we ate away the last two nights, Foodie Philip’s mother had more food than we would have eaten: another duck; some marinated chicken drummettes and some ham. She roasted the duck, cooked the marinated chicken and boiled some potatoes.

Foodie Philip segregated and cut the duck for service, sliced the ham (and extra purchased) and plated the chicken. Foodie Greg prepared the potato salad and Nigela Lawson’s Watermelon Salad, learning in the process just how expensive limes and watermelon are in Newcastle compared with Chatsworth CA).

There are never leftovers when niece Charley comes to dinner: she’ll happily take them!

It’s hard to put an exact price on tonight’s meal but the watermelon salad ingredients (in Australian dollars) were:

  • Limes – 5 @$1.50 each, or $7.50, which is horrifying for anyone living in California, but on discount $6.65
  • Olives $2.50
  • Mint was 20g (just under 1oz) for $2.00
  • Parsley was 20g for $2.00
  • Watermelon was $7.00 for 1.5 KG
  • Feta was $3.96

That adds up to Au$24.11, but there were – maybe – eight serves, making it Au$3.01 or US$2.20 per serve, which compares with $2.33 when we last prepared it in June. Roast Duck about 50c per small serve; Ham around $2.80 per serve; and the drummettes 80c per serve. Overall, approximately  $6.96 per serve, without the fruit salad, ice-cream and whipped cream contributed by our mother.

There are no food photos, so today is represented by our family photo: from left, back row: Niece Charley, Philip, Brother/Brother-in-Law David, Greg, Mother Dawn, Niece Riley and Sister-in-Law Lauren. We had a great night together with Riley’s boyfriend and a housemate of Charley’s who took the photo.

Dec 29: Fish and Chips; Bruschetta, Shrimp, Lamb, Sausages, Baked Potato, Tomato, Avocado and Mango Salad

Lunch

We traveled for lunch with friends in Sydney, who took us to The Boatshed at Balmoral Beach. No food pictures but the view forms today’s headline photo!

Because it was the seaside, we at Fish and Chips. The fish was perfectly cooked inside with a perfect batter. The chips could have used another minute or two in a hot frier to crispen a little more.

Our friends paid for lunch.

Dinner

Back to Newcastle for another dinner party: this time with the friend (and relatively new wife) who introduced Greg and Philip in December 1990! He and Foodie Greg’s friendship started before primary (a.k.a. grade school).

Dinner started with Bruschetta and jumbo shrimp. Followed by a leisurely soak in their lake-side pool, before heading back up for dinner.

After the swim, we were ready to eat again, so we dined on lamb, sausages, roast potato cubes and a delicious arugula, tomato, avocado and mango salad. The meats were done on a barbecue or grill outside.

Our hosts paid for dinner.

Dec 28: Pie and Sausage Roll; Dinner Party – Steak, Mushroom and Salads

Lunch

The Foodies continued our search for a really good Australian meat pie and sausage roll at Snows’. Once again it was quite competent but LA-based Bronzed Aussie still ranks best.

Lunch today cost Au$9.10 per serve, or US$6.65.

Dinner

It turns out that Foodie Greg’s school friends overlap with friends of Foodie Philip from years past, so dinner was organized. After socialization and a swim, we sat down for steak and mushrooms from the grill, with Nigela Lawson’s watermelon salad, and a tomato and corn salad.

Dessert was pineapple grilled with cinnamon and sugar, and is today’s featured image.

The food was great, the company even better. Our hosts covered the cost of the food.

Dec 26: “Club” Lunch; Roast Duck with Roast Vegetables

Lunch

For lunch the Foodies were invited out by Foodie Greg’s family and we met at the Belmont 16′ Club. The concept of a working man’s club as it is in Australia doesn’t really translate to the US context. These are member owned, licensed premises supported by ‘poker’ (slot) machines. They would be close to a very small scale casino without accommodation.

Foodie Greg had a good Thai steak salad while Foodie Philip had a roast chicken breast with mushroom risotto. Foodie Greg’s family paid for lunch.

Dinner

The Foodie’s mom had purchased two fresh ducks for post-christmas celebration and roasted one last night, along with roast potato, sweet potato, apple and carrot, served with peas.

  • The duck was Au$20 and we got four serves, for $5 a serve
  • Potatoes run at 50c per serve
  • Sweet potato cost 60c per serve
  • Peas and carrot add another 30c per serve.

Dinner tonight was an excellent example of a roast meal, particularly since the vegetables were roasted in duck fat! At US$4.68 it was very reasonable.

Dec 25: Christmas Lunch

Lunch

A lazy morning and then on to Christmas lunch with our extended family, starting with grilled shrimp (prawns). The main meal followed of ham, roast pork, an avocado, mango, kumato and leafy green salad, gluten free pasta salad and roast potatoes.

Dessert was quintessentially Australian: a pavlova stacked with whipped cream, raspberries and strawberries. (Although both Foodies went for the fruit without the pavlova.)

The Foodies contributed the salad and enjoyed the rest. Impossible to calculate a per-head pricing.

Dinner

After such a large lunch no-one felt like dinner, although we snacked on some biltong that Foodie Greg had bought back with him from his trip to Kalgoorlie.

Dec 24: A proper Aussie Hamburger; Birthday Celebration at Parry Street Garage

Lunch

After collecting Foodie Greg from Newcastle Airport, the Foodies followed our niece’s recommendation and found ourselves at a proper, Greek-run, hamburger and take out shop. For whatever immigrators reason, there were a preponderance of Greek-run take-out shops during our youth and young adulthood.

We both wanted a real, Aussie style burger and you can see from the image above, it includes a lot of additions you won’t see on a burger in the United States: egg and beetroot in particular, but much more salad than is usual and way less cooked bacon. Cheese would have been processed, (to be authentic) so we skipped that.

The Aussie Bacon and Egg burger with bacon, egg, grilled onions and salad, with beetroot (a larger version of beets) cost Au$8.00 or US$5.85.

Dinner

As it was our niece’s birthday we took the family to a restaurant chosen by  said niece: Parry Street Garage. After just one meal there, it comes with our very high recommendation. The atmosphere modern, converted garage with an open kitchen and limited menu cooked very well.

Our niece, and half the table, ordered their:

Wood Smoked Salmon- faro grain, grilled zucchini, soft feta, toasted almonds, dill, parsley, lemon & olive oil  GF

Only one at the table were able to finish the dish because it is so filling because of the faro grain probably, but all – including Foodie Greg – found the combination of flavors worked very well, in an unexpected combination.

Foodie Philip opted for the:

Wood fired pork belly, apple & fennel puree, rosemary roast potato & steamed greens

The pork was perfectly cooked with ‘crackling’ – the crisped skin of the pork belly. (Pork scratchin’s are a very pale imitation.) The crackling was that perfect blend of crunchy, without losing the flavor and texture, and without being too hard. The pork itself had the fat perfectly rendered and unctuous. 

We assumed that it had been initially souse vidé to cook and render the fat to perfect temperature, and later observed them preparing a pork belly primal for souse vidé. Great to see a restaurant prepare their own food from scratch when so many rely on big food service vendors for the basic preparation.

The unctuous pork belly with perfect crackling.
The unctuous pork belly with perfect crackling.

While the pork was definitely a 10/10 dish – it’s hard to imagine how it could be improved – the rest of the dish didn’t do the protein justice. The pork really needed something a little acidic to balance the fat: something pickled perhaps, or ceviche onion, or a tart apple sauce (green apple and verjuice compote?). The potato and greens were serviceable, but uninspired while the apple and fennel puree only occasionally had an apple hit.  As a dish, probably 7/10 but the pork… Perfect.

The average of the two dishes was a very reasonable Au$22.25 or US$16.25 all up. The final bill for the entire meal, with wine and beers, was very reasonable and much less than was expected.